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SPEECH: Sen. Rob Schaaf’s on ethics, April 24, 2017

Mr. President,

To speak on a point of personal privilege…

Thank you, Mr. President.

Some words of advice that have long stayed with me are these words from Hamlet, by Shakespeare:

“This above all– to thine own self be true,

And it must follow, as the night the day,

Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

When I recall these words, they remind me to always be honest with myself, even when the truth is unpleasant.

And these past few days, I’ve had to be honest with myself about an unpleasant truth: that I have been contributing to the appearance of corruption in Jefferson City by renting a room from my friend of 20 years, Richard McIntosh, a lobbyist.

To be clear: I have paid Richard for the room with my own funds, not with legislative favors, and Richard has disclosed the arrangement as required by law. But when people look to their state capital, they would rather not see legislators renting rooms from lobbyists; it makes them think those lobbyists might somehow be enjoying undue influence.  

For that reason, I’ve decided to stop renting from Richard and find someplace else to spend my nights in Jefferson City. I’ve already told Richard, and I’ll be staying at a hotel tonight.  It’s unpleasant for me, but I have to be honest with myself about the truth.  

And now I must raise another unpleasant truth: Much of what happens here in Jeff City contributes to the appearance of corruption.  Now, I don’t mean to say that the people here are corrupt, or unethical.  In fact, I think the opposite is almost always true.  What are corrupt are the incentives that we face, and some of the exchanges in which we take part.  These things corrupt our judgment, they corrupt the laws we make, and they cause people to lose faith in the process.  

Take some examples:

In 2016, we legislators accepted over $450,000 in personal gifts from lobbyists.  Averaged out, that’s about $2,300 per legislator, and in only one year.  Now, if me just renting a room from a lobbyist created the appearance of corruption – and, as I’ve acknowledged, it did – then what of this?  

Here, we’re talking about actual gifts – not renting something and paying for it – and gifts demand reciprocity.  The drive to reciprocate is a fundamental human drive, and one to which we in the legislature are not immune.  

The people of Missouri know that.  They know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.  So when we take free lunches from lobbyists – not to mention larger gifts – it undermines the people’s trust in what we do.  That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 2, a bill that would ban all lobbyist gifts.

Even worse than lobbyist gifts are big-money campaign donations.  Checks for ten thousand, a hundred thousand, a million dollars – if anything creates the appearance of corruption, those do.  And on November 8, the people of Missouri made it clear that they want those big checks to stop, approving by a margin of forty points a new law to stop them.  

Unfortunately, that new law contains some massive loopholes – loopholes that many are exploiting.  Now, if me renting a room from a lobbyist created the appearance of corruption – and again, as I’ve acknowledged, it did – what if I’d accepted a giant check from a big donor before introducing that donor’s bill?  In terms of undermining public trust, that would be orders of magnitude worse! That’s why I introduced SJR 1, which would close the loopholes in the new law approved by voters.

A third thing that creates the appearance of corruption is dark money.  When elected officials take dark-money donations, or benefit from dark-money spending, it is truly discouraging to voters. How can voters trust their elected officials when those officials won’t even disclose the sources of their funds? For all voters know, their elected officials are taking massive kickbacks for political favors, or using funds from other states, or even other countries.

So voters give up.  They conclude that the system is corrupt, and they stop voting, they stop paying attention to politics, they stop respecting the laws, convinced that the process by which those laws are made is not legitimate.  We must keep people from falling into such despair.  That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 73, which would put an end to dark money in Missouri politics.

If we want Missourians to respect the laws we enact, if we want them to trust that we work for THEM, then we need to eliminate the appearance of corruption in Missouri government.  So far, we haven’t done so, and the FBI is now circling the Capitol.  

Now, our governor ran on the platform that he would clean up Missouri government.  He promised to stop lobbyist gifts, promised to close the revolving door, promised to promote greater transparency.  

So after he was elected, I filed bills to get those things done – Senate Bills 2, 3, and 73 – and I met with the governor and asked him to support those bills.  I asked him to provide leadership. I asked him to let me help him do the things he campaigned on, the things he said he would do.

Instead, what has he done?  

After taking a million dollars from David Humphreys, he’s now promoting a bill that would deny justice to Missourians who say Humphreys cheated them.  He even brought that bill up in his State of the State address.

After taking an undisclosed amount of money from Centene Corporation to fund his inauguration, and perhaps even secret dark money contributions that we can’t see, he’s now pushing to give Centene a chunk of a $2 billion line item in the budget, and he’s hurrying to get their rigged contract started before we’ve even appropriated the money to pay for it!

After promising to reveal all his donors, he has established a so-called “non-profit” specifically for the purpose of hiding his donors.  And now that so-called “non-profit” is making the absurd claim that I – I, Rob Schaaf – am blocking a lobbyist gift ban.”  Not only that, but his ads are giving people my personal cell phone number and telling them to call me about it.  

GOVERNOR!  REALLY?  I’ve been pushing for a lobbyist gift ban harder than anyone!  If a lobbyist gift ban comes to the floor – a real lobbyist gift ban – I’ll be the first in line to vote for it, and I’ve said as much a hundred times!  

Governor, you’ve said that we in this chamber are corrupt.  By having your senior advisor make much of my simply renting a room from Richard McIntosh, you’ve said that I am corrupt.  

Well, Governor, don’t ignore the log in your eye when you see the speck in mine.  I’m removing the speck.  I’m moving out of the room I’ve rented from Richard McIntosh.  Now you remove the log.

Disband the non-profit that you’ve had set up to launder your secret contributions.  

Give back the million dollars you took from David Humphreys, and stop trying to deny justice to the Missourians who say Humphreys cheated them.  

Give back the money you took from Centene, and stop this illegal rollout of the managed care expansion, before it’s too late, just seven days from now.

And Governor, you need to stop calling us in this chamber “corrupt, career politicians.”  

Missouri has a real problem with corruption – but it is a problem of corrupt incentives and corrupt norms, NOT corrupt hearts.  

We need strong leadership to fix that corruption, and, Governor, you can provide that leadership.  

You can clean this mess up.  

You can lead Missouri to become the example for the rest of the nation to follow, the first state in the nation to stamp out the appearance of corruption and by doing so, stamp out corruption itself.

And if you ever want to go to the White House, you need to start now.  

Now, we in this chamber, we can do what the governor said he would do but has not done.  

Let’s stop lobbyist gifts.  

Let’s close the revolving door.  

Let’s put an end to the era of dark money.  

I have language in my hand to do just that – a substitute for Senate Bill 305 – and we can pass it today if we just have the will.  

It may be unpleasant for us, but to our own selves, let’s be true, and seize this opportunity to serve our state.  

Thank you, Mr. President.